If you are an AAUW member, you probably proclaim that you are interested in education. Perhaps you give money for scholarships. Now is the time for you to take an interest in the actual content of education in the context of AAUW’s policy of equity in education. Governor DeSantis approved new civics education standards that exclude discussion of systemic racism and promote, in my opinion, what we used to call “jingoism”. Equity calls for the stories of previously excluded people to be taught.
The Florida Department of Education’s fear of dangerous ideas goes way back. When I was in high school in Gainesville Florida, the state decided that perhaps we should learn something about communism, a very dangerous idea that we might fall victim to if it were taught indiscriminately. So they produced a movie series that seniors were allowed to watch in the auditorium, called “Americanism versus Communism”. Now might be a good time for the state to produce another video series, “Americanism versus Critical Race Theory”. After all, who knows what kids might pick up on the outside that might suggest to them that the promises of liberty and justice for all really did not apply to everyone?
Instead, they have produced a new civics education curriculum that is quite rigorous in its promotion of an absolutely laudatory understanding of all American institutions and practices. The student is to understand the advantages of limited government, capitalism, and the influence of Hebraic and Christian religion on America’s founding ideas. The words “slave” and “slavery” are not found in the standards. The word “native” is found only in a context that praises the government for granting rights to Native Americans, among other “groups”. Any fault in granting civil rights to these groups was remedied: “Explain how the principles contained in foundational documents contributed to the expansion of civil rights and liberties over time.” Much attention is paid to those foundational documents, but no mention is made of the Constitution’s compromises that perpetuated slavery and denied rights to women.
In my graduate work I learned the maxim that it is the victors who write the histories. We cannot allow the political victors to write, for their own benefit, the history that students will learn in school. We have scholars and journalists nowadays who are willing to dig and learn the histories of people who were left out of official accounts. Florida Rep. Ramon Alexander (D-8) collected a list of ten “pieces of factual Florida history” that have been left out: slavery and the role of enslaved laborers in building our monuments, systematic racism (Jim Crow, redlining, mortgage discrimination), two destroyed towns, and examples of lynchings and vigilante retaliation. One example of the latter, the Jacksonville Ax Handle Saturday “riot,” has recently been the subject of reexamination and apology from the Times-Union for its biased coverage of the events in 1960.
I urge all AAUW members and others who are concerned with equity in education to be alert to potential negative impacts from the new standards. Watch particularly for disciplinary actions taken against teachers who may defy the restrictive standards and try to teach what actually happened: to tell the stories that were suppressed or deceptively reported. And support teachers who promote actual critical thinking rather than acceptance of dogma.